Flooring Inspection Safari: Do You Have Squeaky Floors?

squeaky floors

Floating floors (those not nailed or glued down) can make noise when walked upon. You might hear squeaking, snapping, popping, or crackling sounds. Sometimes the sounds are throughout the installation. Sometimes the sounds are in localized areas. They might be apparent all year long. Or the noises might occur only during certain seasons. Manufacturers often automatically turn down a claim for a noisy floor. One major manufacturer states in its warranty that squeaky floors, whether laminate or engineered wood, are not manufacturing related. I recently looked at a laminate flooring installation that is a perfect example of why manufacturers take this position.

A high-quality laminate had been installed over a concrete subfloor, replacing the existing carpet. The installers had not checked the subfloor for unevenness. They placed a thin high density cushion over the concrete. Then they installed the floating laminate flooring. The homeowner noticed squeaking shortly thereafter.

Here’s what I discovered during my inspection:

Ideally, you should run your HVAC system for several days before installation so that your home’s interior has a steady temperature — somewhere between 60-80F and humidity between 35%-55%. Laminate flooring (as well as most other types of flooring) needs to be acclimated. This means that the material must get used to the climate inside your home. Most manufacturers want their laminate to sit inside your home for three or four days. Then the flooring shrinks or swells slightly before it is installed. Click here for further flooring installation tips on how weather affects your floors.

The installers delivered the wood the same day they installed it. The wood did not have time to adjust to the inside conditions of this non air-conditioned home. Strike one.

Once the old floor is removed, the installers are supposed to check the subfloor’s flatness and moisture levels. In this case, they did neither. Fortunately for them, this concrete subfloor had unusually low moisture levels. (The hows and whys regarding the importance of subfloor moisture levels is a story for another blog.) A flat subfloor is a stable foundation for any flooring. Unfortunately for them, the subfloor was not flat. Strike two.

All floating floors are installed so that they move freely. They will fail if they are touching any walls, door jambs, pipes, etc. This is accomplished by using perimeter gaps all around the edges of rooms or any vertical objects like pipes. Wood floors shrink and swell with the weather. Perimeter gaps allow for these changes. If the wood is “locked in” against an object, it can buckle or bubble. Then the floor acts like a trampoline, noisily moving up and down. This floor was locked against door jambs and thresholds. It buckled and squeaked. The noise was worse during the summer’s humidity. Strike three.

The manufacturer sent a representative to this home four months after installation. He removed several planks and sent them to their laboratory for testing. It was not a surprise when the tests showed that the wood was OK.

When I wrote my report, I concluded that the noise was due to movement between the subfloor and the laminate. The uneven (low spots) subfloor did not provide a firm foundation for the laminate. The trampoline-like effect of the buckled floor compounded the squeaking. The uneven floor and the buckling are installation related. The laminate is well made and within tolerances. If installed correctly, it will perform properly.

Who is Glenn Revere?

Glenn Revere has been a carpet expert since 1973. He’s a certified flooring inspector and the author of All About Carpets, the only book written to protect and inform you about your carpet choices, from carpet buying and carpet warranties to carpet care and maintenance. You can find him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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